After a man was fatally stabbed in front of his daughter and wife in an unprovoked attack while the family was dining at a beachfront eatery in Ventura, local residents were putting pressure on public officials to address homelessness issues on Monday.
Dozens of concerned citizens marched from the scene of the attack, Aloha Steakhouse at 364 S. California St., to Ventura City Hall ahead of a 6 p.m. City Council meeting, at which they planned to voice their concerns about the town's homeless population.
The man suspected of killing 35-year-old father Anthony Mele is Jamal Jackson, 49, who has a criminal record and is homeless, according to Ventura police. Jackson is accused of approaching Mele at random and stabbing him in the throat around 9:20 p.m., after the family had just finished eating and while Mele's 5-year-old daughter sat on his lap.
Officials have said they were alerted to concerning behavior Jackson was exhibiting hours before the attack, but did not have enough patrol officers to respond. Instead, they observed him for about 20 minutes from a surveillance camera near his location outside the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach and determined he did not pose a threat.
Police Chief Ken Corney admitted to the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he feels the department made a mistake in not responding to to the area. Ventura police have since increased their patrols around the promenade area where the attack occurred.
In the aftermath of the jarring killing, community members have pointed to what they say is a growing population of homeless individuals in Ventura as a contributor to Mele's death.
“We can’t go to the parks. We can’t go anywhere in the public without having to deal with a violent and aggressive vagrancy," said Angela Smith, who helped organize Monday's march on City Hall. “We need our City Council to invest in our public safety. That should be the utmost priority for us.”
Lawmakers were not considering any proposals related to homelessness or the stabbing at Monday's meeting, but residents used the public comment portion to make their voices heard.
“I don’t want to see this City Council do anything else except deal with the violent, aggressive, homicidal homeless population in this town,” one man said.
However, a woman who also spoke during public comment said one individual's alleged actions — no matter how reprehensible — should not be used to condemn the homeless population as a whole.
“Any time an innocent person is killed is horrible," she said. "To blame it on an entire community that has no place to live is not acceptable.”
Roy Foster, who was formerly homeless and attended Monday's meeting, said there are steps officials can take to remedy the situation.
“We need more low-income housing, we need a warming shelter year-round, we need individual case management for people who are on the streets, we need more jobs,” he told KTLA.
While the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in the city of Ventura increased about 42 percent this year — to 516 from 310 in 2017 — the size of the population is the same as it was in 2013 and 2014, and lower than any year before that since the Ventura County Continuum of Care Alliance began counting the homeless in 2007.
Some of the increase this year may actually be a result of a more accurate survey, which for the first time included areas surrounding the Santa Clara and Ventura rivers that had not previously been counted, the Ventura County Star reported.
And, homelessness may be more visible: There was a 24 percent increase in those living on the streets or in vehicles countywide with a scarcity of open spaces in shelters.
Overall, homelessness in Ventura County has been steadily decreasing over the past decade, VCCCA stats show. But California is currently home to about 24 percent of the nation's growing homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Regardless of the statistics, community members remained on edge after the gruesome attack that claimed Mele's life.
“We don’t want to die when we go to restaurants and have a pleasant evening with our kid on our lap,” said Ventura resident Mark Rochin.
Police have told the Star that Mele's death was the city's first reported homicide in 2018.
Detectives are still looking to speak with anyone who interacted with Jackson in the promenade area in the hours before the attack. Anyone with information can contact Sgt. Matt Cain at 805-339-4488.
A GoFundMe campaign set up for Mele's family had raised more than $98,000 of its $150,000 goal as of Monday evening.